Thursday, September 29, 2011

16426--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 2)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

Similarities to Persons Living or Dead is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.


Chapter 2

My head hurt.  It wasn't a steady pain.  It was more of an intense, dull throbbing, like being awake high school with a country music soundtrack. It certainly didn’t seem like anything I wanted to be awake for.

Then, I heard a woman moan, “Good morning, handsome.”

I managed to crack one eye open enough to see a blonde…blur, in the bed. “Who…?”

“Who was on the phone?” she asked. “Sorry, it stopped ringing just when I got to it, so…y’know…”

The phone rang? Should I have cared? Not what I was asking, anyway. Obviously, I‘d missed a few links in the chain of events. “Who the Hell are you?”

“You don’t even remember my name?”

“You’re lucky I didn’t start off with asking if we’d met,” I told her, lifting my arm to cover my eyes.

“Well, you’re still funny,” she giggled. “I’ll say we’ve met…and met and met...”

“Oy vey. New day,” I sighed, “same old headaches.”

“Some people call them ‘hangovers’.”

“Like I asked, sunshine--”

“There, see? You do remember my name.”

“You’re kidding, right? I don’t even know where I am.”

“You’re in your bed, silly,” she giggled.

“No, my bed…my apartment blew up.” And if it were my bed, my gun would be under my pillow and--

“I think you mentioned that,” she said, “so this must be a new apartment, ‘cuz it’s really nice.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound like me at all,” I said, trying to get to my feet. “My tongue feels fuzzy…Is this Monday? I should feel better than this on a Recovery Monday.”

“Tuesday,” she said, clawing at my back. “Love that tongue, though.”

“Tuesd--Damn. We had a Timeslip Tuesday and it cost me a Recovery Monday. I hate when that happens. I really could’ve used that. OK…Look, if I wasn’t quite myself--”

“If it gets better, I’d love to see that. You were a wild man last night. WOOF!”

Whatever I drank must’ve diverted blood from my brain. I was in no mood for a day of possible random time skips. “That the bathroom?”


“I’ll be in there,” I said. I pushed off from the bed and staggered into the bathroom. It was a lot nicer than my old one. It may have even been bigger than my old bedroom. The mirror didn’t present as pretty a picture as the new place. I was sure I’d seen better days, but I recognized my toothbrush so I started with brushing my teeth as I contemplated a shave. There was no sign of a razor. I settled for a double dose of aspirin and a hot shower instead. After several minutes, I stumbled out of the bathroom.

I was wrapped in a towel and drying the rest of myself with another, but stopped to make sure I hadn’t gone into the wrong bedroom. I was pretty sure I wasn’t brain damaged, but that I was actually looking at a whole different woman. She was sitting on the bed, her black hair spilling down over the shoulders of her private eye trench coat (standard issue). There was a semi-automatic .45 in her lap and a private eye hat (standard issue) sitting beside her. The day was rapidly going downhill, I just knew it.



“There was another woman here, wasn’t there? Or did I hallucinate that?”

“Oh, her. She saw my gun and left in a hurry.”

Oh, I liked this one. “Why didn’t I think of that? If you came in to relieve her for the day shift, you‘ll need to wait a bit. I just took a shower and I’d hate to waste all that cleaning just getting sweaty again. Maybe after breakfast, we can--”

“No offense, but she hardly seemed like your type.”

“She was a woman,” I said. “They come in lots of different types.”

“She seemed kind of dense.”

“I’m pretty sure I was blacked out before we met,” I told her. “Whatever criteria I used, I’m a lot of years past finding someone to help me with my math homework. I’m actually pretty consistent about the women I wake up with.”

“Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s a situation I have to suffer with until someone comes up with a cure. Now, who the Hell are you? Unless my sister sent you to scare women out of my bed, you‘ve got a lot to explain.”

“Well, the shortest explanation is that my name’s Harmony Storm, Mr. Stone,” she said, “and I desperately need your help.”

“This ain’t an AA meeting, doll.”

“Please, Mr. Stone,” she pleaded. “I’ll do anything.”

Trouble. I knew it. Some dame showing up and starting to run her mouth was never anything less. “Do I know you? You look familiar.”

“Train station,” she reminded me. “Lots of blood.”

“I think I remember that,” I said.

“I’m not sure I can forget it.”

“If you needed my help, why’d you run?”

“Well, at the time, I had to go vomit after seeing all the…blood,” Harmony answered, trying to keep herself from retching, “and there…there are strange people after me. They were after me then and they still are! I wasn’t sure who you were. When I found out, I spent the last couple of days trying to find you again.”

“Swell,” I sighed, looking around the room. “Where are my clothes?”

“Kind of scattered around,” she said, “in here, down the hall, in the living room--”

“OK, OK…Go find the kitchen. Wait there. I’ll get dressed and catch up.”

“You’re going to help me?” she asked, both excited and relieved as she sprung up from the bed and threw her arms around me. “Thank you! Thank you!”

“Alright, you need to calm down, step back and go to the kitchen,” I told her. “You’re about two bounces from putting these towels on the floor and starting something that’s gonna cost us the day on your case.”

“Oh…um, sorry,” she apologized clumsily, embarrassed as she stepped back. “I’ll go now and…see you…in the kitchen.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

16423--Lions and Tigers and Bears! Alright!

I was watching a group of actors perform an acting exercise.  They seemed to think it was a standard sort of thing, giving them the chance to be creative and move around and think about things differently.  OK, so not so different from a writing exercise.  What the director told them to do was to pretend to be their favorite animal.  I had no problem with this, but noticed something I found very odd.  As the few others of us watched and quietly figured out what animal each actor was mimicking, I noticed that there were no predators.  I also found it odd that no one else noticed this till I mentioned it.

No one else seemed to think it odd, but I sure did.  At the least, I thought it had to be some manner of statistical anomaly.  I feel like it has to be saying something about those people.  Maybe it's indicative of actors in general.  I don't know.  I haven't been interested enough to start polling, but I'd be interested in any comments readers would care to leave here. 

Maybe it says something more about me.  I like animals well enough.  Lots of them are delicious.  I don't hunt them, but I don't get on anyone's case for doing so because, as mentioned, I do eat them and don't see any of them volunteering for that.  Well, not since that Noah's Ark project, anyway, and that was just a story so far as we've been told that at best exaggerated a happening of far smaller scale.  Wild animals went in by twos, but domestic animals went in by eights so that...Well, I'm sure you've had your share of meals before so I shouldn't have to spell it out.  Even if I don't eat them, lots of my favorite animals are predators.  And I'm not talking about just any predators.  The ones that get my attention are typically apex predators.  Even among the non-predators, the herbivores that interest me most seem to be the ones no one else is eating: rhinos, cape buffalo...  Some people make sure to watch "Meerkat Manor", but I show up for Shark Week. 

I'm sure that the appeal of a favorite animal has to say something about one's personality.  Since childhood, I've found my likes skewing to the top performers: fastest, strongest, toughest, etc.  I'm a big fan of heroic fiction, so I find great appeal in Superman.  As much as I like other superheroes, I still often think of the Justice League as "Superman and the Back-up Squad".  Likewise, for all the years of enjoyment I derived from the Legion of Super-Heroes comics, the fact that it spent many years titled as "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" made as much sense to me as Robin only being known as the last part of "Batman and...".  Be honest: without the big guy there was no show.

I'm sure that my interests in types of animals and heroes and villains must have great influence over the stories I write.  Why not?  It certainly makes more sense than my great influences being found among my favorite foods.  I imagine that if I adored hummingbirds and kittens, I'd probably be compelled to write wholly different types of fiction...or maybe not fiction at all.

How about you?  Do you like cheetahs or parrots or giraffes best?  Does this draw you toward adventures, romances, poetry or science journals?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

16419--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 1)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

Similarities to Persons Living or Dead is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.

Chapter 1

It was a dark and stormy night. In a rare stroke of luck, I didn’t have to be out in it. For the past couple of hours, I’d been engaged in one of the mainstays of detective work: the stakeout. I supposed that if I were inclined toward some of the magical proclivities that were so popular in The City, I could’ve watched stuff from home or even hired some hotshot to watch stuff for me. I was too stubborn and hands-on for any of that, though, so I had myself positioned behind a set of tripod-mounted, night-vision binoculars. And so I waited…and waited.

I was trying to get evidence against a waste of DNA known as Stark White. I had been led to believe that he was the man who’d put an enchanted bullet through the beautiful bosom of the late Whitney Gregg. With only a corpse and the remains of the slug, I knew I could count on the local cops to do precious little to close her case. To make things more difficult, whoever White was working for was some high roller who had enough juice to keep him protected from at least moderate legal entanglements. If I could start making things more complicated for him, though, I felt confident that I could separate him from that support and, ultimately, his freedom. I still wasn’t sure that tying him to Whitney’s murder weapon would be enough to bring him down, though that was certainly the crime I wanted him brought to justice on. I was motivated enough to find out about his other criminal activities and interfere with those. I would either gather more evidence against him or destroy his value to his employer. I was determined to find a way to nail the bastard.

My latest information indicated that the nightclub Corona was worth watching through the storm because White was supposed to stop by to inspect a new shipment of “product”. No one had been able to give me a solid answer about what the “product” was, but whenever people started referring to items in generic terms and refusing to talk in detail it was usually because whatever they were doing was too wrong to talk about openly. Strangely, even though they knew inside that it was something they couldn’t talk about, it didn’t stop them from doing whatever dirty deeds they were doing. Some people tried to use money and power to patch damaged consciences like bits of tissue paper on shaving cuts, but that only worked until the realization hit that they‘d been trying to stop hemorrhages instead.

One other lucky break I had received was having a friend whose apartment had a perfect view for overlooking the club. From the angle we had, I was able to see the entire rear of the building and its loading dock, the side of the building with the only vehicle access to the rear and even a bit of the street that ran past the front of the club.

“All quiet?” my host asked.

“Welcome back. Yeah, all quiet so far,” I told him. Sun Tzu (yeah, that Sun Tzu) was silent in his silk PJs, even as he switched from his floating meditation to gliding around the room practicing the breathing and graceful movements of his martial art. “You getting another one of those feelings? Should I be expecting something soon?”

“Soon, yes,” the old man said.

“You should try some ribs,” I told him. “They’re really good tonight.”

“Soon,” he assured me.

I called him an old man and, sure, any calendar would say he was. There was no arguing that. He just didn’t show it. Whatever mojo he had working for him must’ve been good because I never saw more than three gray hairs on his head. He really didn’t look much older than I did. I expected that would only last till I clocked a few more years, since I was also pretty sure he looked the same as he had the day I met him.

“I should commend you,” Sun Tzu said, walking toward me across the candlelit room, “for exercising the wisdom to take the time to get to know your opponent, rather than allow your passions to lead you into rash action.”

“I‘ve been trying to conserve bullets,” I said. “I wish I could say it's been paying off. I’ve been having a hard time getting any info on the organization he‘s gotten into bed with. I’m trying to stay optimistic that if I can get past the security at Heliopolis and into his suite, I’ll be able to get something solid. His ex said he’s got ambition and a Jones for magic items, so…”

“Is he a user?”

“Not that I’ve heard,” I said. “He’s just a punk trying to shortcut to the top.”

“So, a collector, meaning he’s likely unaware that you’re stepping on his shadow as yet.”

“Yeah, I’m trying not to spook him,” I confirmed. “I’m going to keep the element of surprise as long as I can.”

“Eyes sharp,” Sun Tzu said.

“Ah, another van,” I said, watching a white cargo van turn from the street to drive along the side of the club. “Fifth one tonight.”

“No logos.”

“Yeah, just plain white,” I said, looking at the driver through the binoculars. “That’s a big guy…looks a little rough.”


“Not that rough.”

“Ogre maybe?” Sun Tzu asked as the van stopped with its rear doors near the loading dock.

The large driver emerged from the van and lumbered to the back of the van. As he opened the van’s rear doors, someone opened a door from inside the club. A smaller, even rougher looking man stepped out onto the loading dock, into the light of a single overhead bulb, and signaled to the larger man who waited by the van in the rain.

“Loading or unloading?” Sun Tzu asked.

“Neither yet,” I answered. “They just told the big guy to stand in the rain. How did this guy even fit in the van? He‘s huge. His mom‘s probably still recovering from the birth.”

“Giant in the family, perhaps.”

“Probably,” I mumbled. “Glad I don‘t have to feed and clothe him.”

“Gold limo,” Sun Tzu announced, pouring himself a cup of tea.

“Showtime,” I said, adjusting the binoculars.

The long car stopped with its headlights near the van’s, forming an odd-looking “L” near the dock’s staircase. The dark-suited chauffeur hurried out of the limousine and opened a large, gold-colored umbrella as he ran around the rear of the car, then to the right side. Opening the passenger door, another lean, dark-suited man stepped out of the car to join his driver under the huge umbrella. The boss man was almost a head taller than his driver, making the smaller man work a bit to keep the bigger one dry as he escorted him to the shelter of the loading dock. With the umbrella pulled away, the man who had to be Stark White stood tall under the light that shone down on the dock. In a white suit, shoes and gloves, he fussed over his lapels and his hair, preening like a kid on his first date. Obviously, a strawberry blonde pretty boy with expensive tastes. The club’s rear door opened again and White smiled an evil smile that a demon would envy.

The guy who’d poked his head out before emerged again, this time with a willowy blonde in a clingy party dress in-tow behind him. He had her by the elbow and it looked like they were doing a dance that involved her trying to stop and collapse while he kept her upright and walking. I noticed he wore the same twisted smile as White. The girl had no expression at all, but as her head flopped from one direction to another I did notice that she had pointy ears. White reached out and grabbed her by the face, then ran his other hand down her torso to her hips. He looked at her intently all the while, then lifted his head to look at the man who had brought her outside and gestured toward the van. The minion yanked on the girl’s arm, pulling her to the edge of the dock where the plus-size man in the rain took her in his huge hands and lowered the young woman into the van. The guy from inside the club ran back inside and in a few seconds came back with another girl and the cycle started again. Every time I started to forget how depraved people could be, I ended up getting smacked in the face with another reminder. My bad.

“What do you think?” Sun Tzu asked.

“Looks like Elf trafficking to me,” I said. “Really pretty girls, dressed to party, different colors, different heights, even some of the little ones, a couple may be Vanir…all really pretty, some of ‘em even glowy…”

“Shipping for a variety of tastes?”

“Well, if they’re only taking elfin, there’s not too much difference there, even if the Vanir aren’t mistakes. They’ve really got a pretty narrow target group.”

“What do you think it means?”

“Well, they could be spell components,” I speculated, “which isn’t really much better than other options. Whatever’s going on, they’ve got their hands bound and they look drugged.”

“Partying hard with the green fairy?” Sun Tzu asked.

“Fits with what I heard about White: he’s not working for anyone good. It may tip my hand early, but I’m sure not going to stand and watch. I’m going to crash this slumber party. You want a piece of the action?” I asked as I put my private eye hat (standard issue) firmly atop my head and slid back into my private eye trench coat (standard issue).

“Not our usual festivities, but I’m all warmed up,” Sun Tzu said, a short wooden staff flying from the wall and into his waiting right hand. “I may as well use it. Let’s rumble.”

As we ran off through the door and started racing down the many flights of stairs in Sun’s building, I caught myself thinking about how much faster a zip line would’ve gotten us to where we were going. Even taking them two stairs at a time, coming downstairs from the fourth floor took longer than I wanted. Worse still, the nearest door to the outside, put us on the sidewalk that ran past the front of the nightclub. We were just starting to sprint down the alley to get to the rear of the club when White’s limo splashed past us. I was pissed, but we kept running. I tried to stay focused on stopping the kidnappings.

The van driving goon was still talking to the club goon, probably about something stupid. Sun Tzu circled around the van to come at the big one from behind while I charged up the stairs and onto the loading dock. I think the big goon saw me just as I reached his little buddy. That was great, since it didn’t give him a chance to interfere as I spun ugly my way so he could hear me play some chin music for him. My punch knocked him off the dock, sending him head first into the rear doors of the cargo van. I watched him collapse, then noticed that Sun Tzu already had the big goon on his knees.

“You haven’t lost your touch, old man,” I said.

“You flatter me, my friend.”

“Says you,” I replied. “I’m the only one breathing hard. Can Kong still talk?”

“I believe he can be persuaded,” Sun Tzu said, poking the beaten goon with his wooden stick. “What say you, villain?”

Ow!” he snapped.

“What’re you clowns doing with the girls?” I asked him angrily.

“I-I don’t know,” he said, wiping water and hair from his forehead with one of his meaty hands. “I just drive the van.”

“To where?” I pressed. “Where were you taking them? To the hotel?”

He nodded, saying, “Yeah, to Heliopolis…for M-M-Mr. T-T-T…Ch-Ch-Cherr…” Suddenly, his efforts to fight through his stammer turned to grunting and choking. The big man grabbed at his throat and then collapsed.

Sun Tzu and I stood in stunned silence for a moment, the unrelenting sounds of falling rain around us and driving bass beats from within the club. Sun Tzu finally crouched and put a hand to the fallen man’s unmoving chest to confirm his condition.

“No pulse,” Sun Tzu said solemnly. “Fatality.”

“I’m not a fan of coincidence,” I said. “Looks like White’s got a magic boss who likes his anonymity.”

“Agreed,” Sun Tzu said.

“Let’s get the girls cut loose so we can get out of the rain,” I said.

I went back to the stairs and back into the rain to help as my friend opened the back of the van. We found fourteen confused and frightened elfin women inside, bound and gagged. We helped each of them out of the van and freed their hands. I let Sun lead them back inside to see if they could find any of their personal items while I followed the pack from the rear. As I stepped inside the back door of the club, I noticed a smiling blonde standing nearby in dim light.

“Nice work,” she said. “You just kept that bachelorette party from escalating past ‘weird’ and on to ‘tragic’.”

“One does what one can,” I said. “You part of it?”


“I should catch up with my friend,” I said. “I’m his wingman and--”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” the blonde assured me.

“I know you?”

“Not yet,” she smiled.

Monday, September 19, 2011

16415--Marketing Tips for Writers and Anyone Else

I don't make claim to being a marketing expert, but I do feel like I have some good ideas and insights that don't seem to be coming to everyone.  Well, that's OK because I'm willing to share my thoughts and it gives me the chance to tell stories.  Fortunately, these are good things for writers.

Something else that I recently realized wasn't obvious to everyone was this: have confidence in your product.  This applies to writers and whatever they're writing, car makers, toy makers, etc.  Sales and marketing is not the venue for humility.  If you're a politician, I would expect you to vote for yourself.  It's as simple as this: if you don't believe in your own product, why should anyone else?

It's your book (I'm a writer, so we're going with "book".  If you're not a writer, you can replace "book" with some more appropriate noun of your choosing.  Go ahead.) so you know it better than anyone else.  If you don't think it's something worthy of everyone else to come running to experience, then why subject the market to it?  Is it something you want to sing from the rooftops about or not?

What sparked all this was an encounter I had during one of my recent excursions out of the Fortress of Solitude.  I met a guy who was wearing a t-shirt for an Italian restaurant specializing in New York pizza.  I quickly realized that the restaurant was his.  So...
     "Where's your restaurant?" I asked him.
     We proceeded to do the near-this-south-of-this-on-this-road verbal tango followed by him telling me, "You should come check it out."
     "Yeah, cool," I said.  "I'm from New York so I'm always on the lookout for good pizza."
     "Well, you should like it," he replied, suddenly sounding a little shaken.  "A lot of people say it's...close."

Wow.  Really?  In that moment, I lost all interest in seeking out this pizzeria.  This man who should've been the restaurant's greatest advocate had become almost apologetic before I'd even gotten to his eatery.  For those of you who don't see this as an issue, let me elaborate: I have found amazing Chinese food in New York and found it matched in San Francisco's Chinatown.  I have found pizzas of varying style and quality all around the country and in Italian restaurants in Europe that have unfailingly fallen short of being comparable to New York pizza.  When I was a toddler, I would scavenge pizza from the plates of my parents' friends so fast that they questioned whether or not I was actually being fed.  I've had two-day-old New York pizza that was better than most other place's fresh.  You can't tout your pizza in one breath and then go weak on me in the next.  It simply isn't done. 

It certainly isn't done if you want to sell me a pizza.  It's either New York pizza or it isn't.  There is no close.  Carob ain't Chocolate no matter how many times you rub the lamp and make a wish.  Close means that it isn't.  To me, "isn't" isn't worth the trip.  I can stay home and not eat New York pizza.  So that evening, I did.

What's the lesson, class?  Don't undersell your pizza.

That also means that you don't undersell your book or whatever else you're working to move.  It's yours and it's unique.  Believe in it.  Be the proud parent with the silly bumper sticker.  Be the grandparent with the endless pictures.  Be Hugo, the exuberant-and-never-disappointing owner of the Italian restaurant that was next door to my family's business.  Be willing to make every person you meet aware of your glorious creation.  Help it to thrive.  Give it all it needs to be great and shine so everyone else has every opportunity to love your work as much as you do.

Don't undersell your pizza.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

16412--In Warm Blood (Ch. 14)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

A Knowledge of Heather is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
Chapter 14

It was still a dark and stormy night, but things were looking better. That was, of course, from my point of view: not only had I not become part of the evening’s rising body count, I was hunting people who thought that I had become a part of the evening’s rising body count.

After a quick trip back to Pietro Ferrari’s building, I made a phone call to police headquarters from the lobby to let Cross know where to find the “legitimate businessman” I was after. I hadn’t actually been at his arraignment, but I was pretty sure that he’d been violating the conditions of his bail over the last few days. I had the elevator take me to the floor below Ferrari’s penthouse, then crept up the stairs to the luxurious top floor.

Poking my head from the stairwell doorway, I couldn’t see anyone around. Of course, it was after three in the morning, so I didn’t expect there to be too many people standing around. Still, I wanted to act quietly. That didn’t seem like it would be too hard. I guess, since he seemed to control the whole top floor, he felt confident about security. Both the elevator and the stairs opened into an entry hallway and there was no doorway to stop me from walking right into the apartment. I figured he usually kept at least one guard on duty, but whoever was supposed to be guarding probably ended up as a stain at the train station. So I ended up with no door to kick in and nobody to beat up or blow holes in. Ferrari was trying to bore me to death. Still, I was supposed to be dead, so I tried not to take it personally.

As I walked past the kitchen, I heard a toilet flush and turned to see the missing guard step out of the little guests’ room. So they had at least had sense enough to replace the night guard with a small-bladdered substitute. He didn’t notice me as he was zipping up, so I cleared my throat.

You!” he said.

“Right on the first guess,” I said, grabbing his tie and dragging him out into the entrance hall. After a couple of punches to the gut and a broken jaw, he fell to the floor and stopped trying to get back to his feet. With a satisfied smile, I sauntered back to that kitchen I had spotted. There was a goon with his back to me, staring into the open refrigerator.

“Hey, Johnny,” the guy said, not looking up, “you back? I was startin’ to think maybe you fell in.”

“No need to worry about me,” I said.

You!” he exclaimed, spinning toward me with that same deer-in-the-headlights look as the first guy.

“Right again,” I said, grabbing his tie and pulling him toward me. “What gave me away? Was it the hat? The coat?” I didn’t get an answer, though. He was about as fragile as Johnny. Ferrari‘s tough guys must‘ve jumped ship when the indictments started coming in. Some bad guys had no stomach for pressure.

I took a bottle of cooking oil with me from the kitchen and found my way through a few of the other rooms. There were only a few lights on through the whole place, but enough to keep me from bumping into most of the furniture. I ended up in a game room. I could see light from under a door and people moving around. I couldn‘t tell how many, but one of the muffled voices sounded like Ferrari. It would have to do.

I dumped the bottle of oil onto the pool table. I grabbed a couple of bottles of rum from the bar and, using the fresh book of matches I’d taken from Aeaea, set the pool table on fire. Hungry flames leapt up and black smoke began to billow. I moved to the wall near the office door and waited. After less than a minute, the smoke alarms started blaring. As expected, the office door opened and one of Ferrari’s men came out.

“Holy--! Hey, boss! We’re on fire!”

He started to run past me, but didn’t notice me so I tripped him. He fell behind the bar. I jumped on his back and broke a bottle of something expensive over his head. I caught a glimpse of the fire extinguisher he must’ve been after and picked it up. Ferrari came out next and stood stunned in the doorway.

“Johnny!” he shouted, dropping his cigar. “Mitch!”

“Catch,” I said, tossing him the extinguisher. He caught it and fumbled with it in a panic for a few seconds. Once he finally got the pin pulled, he emptied the canister putting out the blazing pool table. I flicked on a light switch, saying, “Nicely done, Pete. Now drop the can.” One look at the .44 and he complied. “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I was kind of hoping.”

“Well, you can put a stop to that,” I said. “We’re the only ones left. Your boys all dozed off--headaches or internal injuries or some such. You really should try to create a safer work environment. Maybe you’ll do better in the prison laundry.”

“We can still deal, Stone,” Ferrari said. “This doesn’t have to be ugly.”

“It does if you’re involved,” I said, waving him toward the office door. “Come on. Let’s get out of the smoke.”

“I knew you could be reasonable.”

“Shut up and show me what you’ve got,” I told him.

He walked over to ridiculously huge wall mirror and began tapping it with the rod. As before, the mirror‘s surface became like rippling water. Changing up the process a bit, Ferrari turned back to me and touched one of the symbols near the center of the rod‘s length. The black rod began to glow and then the end pointed at me flared with a bright light and unleashed a ball of fire rocketing my way. I was just able to dive and roll, leaving it to blast into the wall. “I thought you’d had enough fire for one night, you ass!“

“The rod has so many uses, though,” he said, “it seems a shame to waste them.”

I fired off two rounds, hitting him in the left arm and leg. Blood splashed out of him as he fell through the mirror, howling in pain. I scrambled back to my feet and ran through after him. Ferrari was whimpering, but still trying to grab the rod he’d dropped when he hit the floor. I kicked his hand away.

“He-Heal me,” Ferrari pleaded, whimpering. “I’m begging ya…please. The rod…”

I felt confused for a couple of seconds, then stupid for taking so long to realize, “The rod heals, too? Of course, like you said, it has lots of uses. What’d you call it? Wayfarer? It’s full of…useful tricks for travellers.”

“I’m dyin’ here, Stone,” Ferrari moaned again. “Just…”

“Quit your moaning,” I told him. “Bleed-out with some semblance of dignity.”

“Hey, come on,” he pleaded. “I thought we was gonna make a deal.”

I thought I was gonna kick you in the balls,” I said, starting to open storage boxes. “You blew any chance of a happy ending when you started shooting.”

“You mean, you really…would’ve let me go?”

“No, but I wasn’t going to shoot you. Now, what am I looking at?” I asked. There were ledger books and notebooks and photos of…“Is this a sheep? And…wow…three girls and none of them old enough to be mistaken for his wife.”

“I got dirt on a lotta guys,” he chuckled, but with strain. “Other bosses. Businessmen. Cops.”

“I told you you’d need the luck.” I kicked a box on the floor and heard a jingle. The long, wooden box felt heavy and solid. I flipped open the lid and found thousands of gold sovereigns and stacks of shiny metal bars. “Are these silver or platinum in here?”

Ferrari moaned.

“Hey, don’t be a sore loser,” I told him, “just answer.”

“Both,” he sighed.

Nice. Ferrari had just handed over records from his activities and incriminating evidence against who knew how many other people. He had just handed me a box of gold sovereigns and other precious metals. “Wow, between all this and being shot,“ I told him, “you’re having a crap week. Hey, what’s in this metal box?” I asked, opening a small money box.

He sighed again and said, “Safe deposit box keys.”

“Don’t like all your eggs in one basket, eh?” I said, scooping a few handfuls of sovereigns into the money box to carry along with me. “Well, it looks like I’m going to be busy for a while.”

I was starting to reach for the magic rod when I saw the smith at the door to the mirror office. His stern gaze was on me, hammer in his right hand and red-hot tongs in his left. “Teng, right?” I asked.

“You struggle for the Wayfarer’s Arcanum,” he said.

I kept the magnum’s barrel on him as my left hand grasped the rod. “Sort of,” I replied. “Struggling part’s kind of done, unless you’ve got something to add.”

“I do not contest,” the elf told me. “I am a craftsman.”

“You don’t say,” I said, standing back up. “I’m a detective. I don’t want to bother your work. I need this loser and his boxes of evidence.” The smith watched me quietly for a few seconds, then put his hammer and tongs on the floor and walked into the office. I put away my gun as he approached me and held out his hand. I watched him for a few seconds, then handed him the rod. He didn‘t seem the handshaking sort.

“The Wayfarer’s Arcanum is a traveller’s convenience,” he said, touching a symbol that made the thing glow, “possessing a score of capabilities.” The elf touched the rod to each of the boxes of evidence, making them glow and then vanish.

“Hey, I said I needed those!”

“When you return through the glass,” Teng began, “touch this rune, fehu, and your boxes will be released.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said. I had neither the tongue for magic nor the desire to develop one. I just nodded and trusted my memory to get me through for a few minutes.

“It’s not a common practice since it drains a lot of power,” Teng said, “but if you want this one healed, touch this rune, uruz, to create a healing aura.”

“This is probably as close as he’ll get to penance,” I said. “Why spoil it?”

“When you return through the glass,” he said again, this time handing me back the rod, “touch this rune again and hold the Wayfarer’s Arcanum to the mirror. Repeat the process when you wish to place the mirror and use it again.”

“Riiight…You say you’re a craftsman,” I said to him. “You make bullets?”

“Bullets?” he echoed.

“Bullets,” I said, handing him a bullet from my pocket. “I’m thinking electrum in this size.”

“Hmm,” he pondered, looking over the .357 caliber bullet. “Should be simple. Any special targets? Undead?”

“Effectiveness against anything generally magical,” I said. “I don’t want to pump a magnum load into a rabid grand shroud hag or a slathering shadow beast and have it laugh at me. When I pull the trigger, there need to be tangible results.”

“Reasonable challenge,” he said. “I’ll probably need to add some sigils. Check back with me.”

“Cool,” I said as he walked out of the mirror office and closed the door, returning to his forge. “Ferrari, you breathing?”


“Wussy,” I taunted.

“Screw you, Stone,” he said, continuing to bleed on his red velvet carpet.

“That’s the spirit,” I said, heading back to the big mirror. “Let’s get you back where the cops can take care of you.”

Reopening the mirror portal, I grabbed Ferrari by the legs and dragged his sorry ass back into his smoky office. Following Teng’s instructions, the boxes of Ferrari’s incriminating insurance/evidence materialized in his office beside him. Then, walking back to the master mirror, I touched the rune again and held the rod against the surface of the glass. There was a glow and the ornate mirror faded away. The sound of approaching footsteps meant it was time for me to get out of the way and let the cops earn their pay. It was way past my bedtime and I still had to find a place to sleep. I tucked the metal box under my arm and the Wayfarer’s Arcanum into the pocket of my private eye trench coat (standard issue) just as Cross came in with a bunch of uniforms and paramedics trailing him.

“Stone! You alright?” Cross asked.

“Just peachy,” I said. “Impeccable timing, as always, Chief O’Hara.”

“What the Hell happened here?” he asked.

“It was like this when I got here,” I told him.


“Oooh…scary dad voice. Look, if it’s illegal, he’s probably done it,” I said. “The D.A.‘ll probably have some extra charges to file Monday. Ferrari needs medical attention and those boxes next to him have some really sick sorts of evidence inside. His henchmen are…around.”

“Yeah, I saw. What happened to them?” he asked.

“They fell down,” I said, pulling down on my hat brim. “A lot. No extra charge.”

“You feel up to making an actual statement?”

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” I said. “Now, I need to go find a bed.”

“I assume that means you’re done leaving bodies on the sidewalk for tonight,” Cross said.

“If at all possible.”

“Great. Call me after you wake up.”

“Don’t be clingy, Cross,” I said. I headed for the elevator. Digging up dirt was one thing, but cleaning up I left to others.

Outside, the storm was down to a drizzle. I had more than enough for cab fare and Ferrari was paying for a decent hotel. I wasn’t ready to start trying to scrape my worldly possessions off my walls just yet. I really hated cleaning. Police and medics were shoving in and out of the building. I was fighting to find my way past their barricades, but almost knocked a long-haired beauty over as I moved through the crowd.

“Hey, Brick, good to see you’re alright,” Overknight said, suddenly catching me in a one-armed hug. “I was actually a little worried about you.”

“Hey, Jen, what’re you doing here? Docs cut you loose with your wing in a sling?”

“Yeah, it was a through and through,” she said. “It looked worse than it was.”

“You slacker,” I said. “You let me take you to the hospital and make a fuss over you for a scratch?”

“I wanted to give you a chance to feel useful,” she told me. “Thanks for the save.”

“Just good teamwork,“ I told her. “I almost didn’t recognize you. What happened to your ponytail?”

“I’m off-duty,” she said, shaking her hair to show off the bounce of her long, black locks, “so I let it down.”

“Looks good,” I told her. “You look a lot better than the last time I saw you, anyway. Got in a little tanning time while you were slacking off?”

“Well, you look exhausted,” she said, walking with me out of the police perimeter. “After they let me out of the hospital, I was going home, but Cross said you called so I figured I‘d come down here and rescue you.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re alright,” I told her, “but you should go home and rest.”

“And you should come with me,” she said. “As I recall, your place needs a few hundred coats of paint.”

“You want me to stay at your place, Overknight?”

“Maybe even longer,” she said. “You’re still a witness, after all. Even if Ferrari is out of action, till word gets out, more hired guns can still come after your ass. Remember the Bogies?”

“Yeah, so hanging around me even with an imagined price on my head isn’t safe,” I told her. “Your insurance premiums up-to-date?”

“Well, yeah…I think so.”

“I’d probably better just find a hotel,” I said. “You’re trying to hug an icy heart, kid. Be smart and head home.”

“I’ll go,” she said, “but you are coming with me. I think we need to practice keeping each other alive a bit longer.”

I was too tired to argue for a change. Overknight slid her good arm back around my waist and we worked through the crowd. Against my better judgment, I could feel myself starting to relax. Being alive together would do for the night. Tomorrow would wait for tomorrow…or maybe even the day after.

16411--What? Me worry?

If I were someone who worried about his weight, I'd be worried.  Allow me to explain: despite having a large, broad-shouldered frame, I stride this world carrying more weight than any medical doctor would say I should for a man my height.  That said, my relationship with gravity doesn't appear to be having any detrimental effects on my health.

I've studied more about health, fitness and nutrition than most people over the years and I put effort into eating in a way I consider to be right and getting exercise.  One thing I've learned about myself over the years is not to use my weight as an indicator of my state of health.  There have been rare windows of time in the distant past where my personal statistics could be viewed in the framework of the doctor's height-weight chart.  For most of my life, though, it hasn't really been an applicable measure.

I've seen a recent example of this in that my height and weight have remained fairly static (normal conditions for both) over the past few years and continued to do so even with a significant change in my diet and exercise patterns for the past couple of months.  While I didn't expect any change in my height, I noticed a change in my body composition that demonstrated the problem one could have with relying on weight as an indicator of health status.  While my weight hadn't changed, my notes showed that I had lost 12 pounds of fat over the past several weeks.  Why didn't my weight change?  Because I simultaneously gained 12 pounds of muscle.  If you only care about total weight, it sounds like a wash and that all the effort is for naught.  To me, though, it's unquestionable progress.  Trade fat for muscle?  I'll make that transaction day after day at any weight.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

16405--In Warm Blood (Ch. 13)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
Chapter 13

It was still a dark and stormy night. The portal had opened into an alley across the street. No sooner had we stepped to the sidewalk than we were accosted by a hustler. The rain couldn’t wash everything off the streets.

“Come on, man,” he pleaded, following us as we crossed the street to get to the train station. “Two sovereigns! Just two! You won’t get a fresher batch of magic beans anywhere in town for that price. Two sovereigns!” he insisted, grabbing the coat sleeve of one of my escorting gangsters who promptly threw the overly forward hustler to the ground, beans and all.

“Hey, give me my gun back,” I said, as we started up the steps to the station entrance, “and I’ll shoot him myself.”

“Quiet, Stone,” Muttonchops said. “Get inside.”

I shook some of the extra water off my private eye trench coat (standard issue) as we stepped out of the rain and into the South Riverside Train Station. By the big clock up on the wall, it was way past my bedtime. It must‘ve been past bedtime for a lot of people, since the station looked to be pretty much deserted. All things considered, though, I was feeling good. I was feeling focused and determined. I figured I probably had about ten minutes left to figure out how to use that to my advantage. Otherwise, I was just going to be very alert when a train came to park on my head. “Why does it take four of you guys to handle one of me?” I asked.

“You been tough to kill,” the one with my gun said, apparently the leader since he had my gun. “Boss wants to make sure it gets done right this time.”

“He don’t look so tough t’me,” Muttonchops said.

That one probably thought he should be the field trip leader instead. I could work with that. “Are we there yet?”

“Shut up, smart guy,” Muttonchops ordered. “He’s drivin’ me friggin’ nuts. See how funny he is when we get to the express track.”

“Calm down,” New Suit said. “We’ll be down there in a minute.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” I said. “I’ve gotta pee like a racehorse.”

“Nobody cares, Stone!” Muttonchops barked. “Shut up already!”

“Now, that’s just mean,” I said. “We’re all guys here. How can you just not care?”

“Watch me.”

“Man, at least your boss was polite about all this,” I said. “You could really stand to learn some better manners from him and your buddies here.”

“I don’t care what nobody else says,” Muttonchops replied. “You’re goin’ down, tough guy! You wanna piss? Piss on yourself!”

“See? That’s just rude,” I pointed out to the other uglies. “It shouldn’t be too big a surprise, I guess. If he doesn’t even care about how the boss does things, he’s not gonna care about what I have to say.”

“Damn right,” he said.

“I’d watch this guy,” I said to the head goon. “He’ll probably come after you next, then Ferrari. Or maybe he‘s gonna do it the other way around and make you--”

“Shut up, you!” Muttonchops barked as we reached the train platform.

He took a swing at my head, but I was watching for it and ducked his punch. “Uh-oh, looks like I touched a nerve. It’s like they say: watch out for the threats from inside.” I had no idea who said things like that, but I figured it sounded ominous enough to worry them.

“I’ve had enough of you, Stone!” Muttonchops shouted as he charged. “I’ll shut your mouth for you!”

“Hey, calm down!” Comb-over said, wrestling with Muttonchops to hold him back. “You’re gonna get us pinched.”

“What’s the matter, Donny?” New Suit asked him. “Did he say something he shouldn’t have? You making some big plans to go with the big talk you’re always spoutin’ off?”

“What?” Muttonchops asked. “You ain’t actually gonna listen to this punk are you?”

“I don’t know. Should I? You’re the one always sayin’ how you got better ideas for how to do things,” he said, grabbing at the other guy‘s coat. “Maybe you’re thinking this trial coming up is your big shot.”

Or maybe it was mine. Three of them were tied up fighting with each other and the fourth one was paying more attention to them than to me. I was pretty sure I was the only one who had noticed the sound of the approaching train. I knew I had to act fast, so I grabbed Slouchy by the collar and smashed my elbow into his face. With him stunned, I grabbed his pistol from its shoulder holster and shoved him into the other three. The stooges fell, stumbling and shouting. New Suit was trying to keep his balance, but his head was at just the right height to present an irresistible target for my foot. He went down hard, as Muttonchops was getting up and trying to charge at me. Him I grabbed by the arm and collar as I side-stepped. With a little helpful steering, his own power carried him face-first into the side of the passing express train. “Oooh! That looked so very painful,” I said with a wince as the dumbass was tossed away from the speeding train and collapsed like a rag doll onto the station platform.

Suddenly, I heard a roar and a scream behind me. I spun toward the sounds with the feel of an electric current shooting up my spine. I was wrestling the pistol from my pocket as I watched the hulking figure kneeling between the other two goons. It was wearing some kind of a red silk robe, which I supposed was convenient considering all the splattered blood. The giant was…some kind of tiger-man. Its right hand…paw was buried in the neck of one guy. The left paw had torn the other one’s head off completely. The blood pouring from the bodies was making a spreading pool around the three of them.

“Relax, Mr. Stone,” the gravel-voiced hulk said, looking up at me. “These four will be more than enough to feed upon and the gun wouldn’t have helped you had I come for you, anyway.”

“Figures,” I said, shoving it back into my pocket. “Don’t know why they even make damn .38s in the first place.”

“You’ll want your weapon back from…that fellow,” he said, “if you’re going to attend to your other business.”

“I knew you were rooting for me,” I said, shaking a finger at him as I moved over to New Suit to get my magnum back.

“I thought you might require assistance, but it seems you are indeed quite formidable despite my potent venom.”

“Yeah, strong as a bull and eager for action.” Retrieving my gun, I also found enough cash for cab fare that he wouldn‘t be needing anymore as I asked, “You have a name?”

“My kind do not share our names,” the response came.

“Your kind?”


“Right…never heard of you. Live and learn,” I said, making sure the .44 was loaded before I slipped it back into its holster. “What’s your interest in me, Tony?”

“You’re a virtuous man who’s being watched,” he said. “Ferrari, on the other hand, is a fool.”

“This is about the box, isn’t it?”

“Did I say anything about a box?”

“Yeah,” I said, “back outside the hospital.” Something he was apparently hoping I’d forgotten.

“You’ll want to use your element of surprise for the short window of time that it still exists,” he recommended, redirecting the conversation.

“Right,” I said, turning to leave the way I came in. “Hey, as long as you’re being so helpful, do you know what ‘SOC’ means?”

“When is murder not homicide?”

“When people annoy me. I’ve heard this one already.”

“Then you should go.”

“I don’t suppose anyone’s going to find any trace of this…mess.”

“That would be unlikely,” Tony said.

“Well, thoughtful of you to tidy up, I suppose.”

“Tosh, old chap. No bother at all.”

“Good that you…enjoy your work.”

“Well, you can’t have a slaughter without laughter.”

“Right,” I said. “OK, I’m out of here.”

In the distance, on the stairs, I saw a woman in a private eye trench coat (standard issue) and a private eye hat (also, standard issue). I caught a glimpse of long, black hair and a semi-automatic pistol as she turned and ran up the stairs. I couldn’t blame her. She did what anyone in a right frame of mind should’ve done. I was still carrying a lot of anger and I didn’t want to keep Ferrari waiting too long. It was time to go make a mess in his penthouse. Meanwhile, I would be being watched. That would have to keep till another day.

16404--The Darnedest Things

Not just kids, but sometimes readers say things worth repeating or ask questions of note.  I think people like to ask writers odd questions because writers are odd creatures in society.  We try to stay isolated from people in general, but communicate with a broad audience.  We thrive in productive seclusion, harboring precious knowledge of arcane subjects.  No wonder people ask writers questions.

One popular query is "How big a nerd are you?"  Well, that's a difficult question to answer without a specific set of measures with which to quantify "nerdiness".  Of course, an answer like that reveals a certain level all by itself.  I suppose it's someplace to start.

I don't run about in costumes pretending to be my favorite character or part of an alien race.  I can quote countless movie lines, absorb great amounts of science fiction and comic book information (the rest of the world calls it trivia) and ponder endless theoretical possibilities spawning from sciences and occurences that may be unlikely ever to occur.  How and why Captain Kirk could use the Enterprise to dominate the Battlestar Galactica and the Death Star in combat, Superman vs the Hulk, time-travel paradoxes, what's good and bad about Star Wars and why, what's wrong with the Batman movies and a dizzying array of other such topics are far more likely parts of my conversations than baseball stats.  I don't actively collect them anymore, but I have enough comic books to start my own store and I can still tell you more about them than most people.  I still enjoy these things of my youth enough that I've carried them along into adulthood.

No, I don't live in my parents' basement.  Yes, I do go out and interact with the real world without people knowing I'm a nerd...unless the conversation takes the proper turn.  I've grown into a big guy who likes to exercise.  A friend recently told me that he was disgusted that I didn't play football in high school and college.  I'm like the tall guy who doesn't play basketball.  I don't follow sports at all.  Ask me if I saw the game last night and I'll likely reply with "What game?"  The only game I saw last night was probably Jeopardy! and I got extra excited when I saw that there was a Comic Book Villains category.

My wife was driving when the car sputtered to a stop and she pulled it to the side of the road.  Though we were on our way to a gas station, she had pushed it too far in her quest for the best price.  As I jumped out to push the last whatever part of a mile to the invisible gas station she assured me was just around the bend, she offered to put the car in neutral.  I thanked her, knowing things would go much more smoothly that way.  Let me take a moment to point out to the old girlfriend who asked me what the point was to all my working out that this is one of those moments in life that justifies the exercise.  You show me a guy who says he doesn't want to be able to move furniture without strain or accept any impromptu arm wrestling challenge and win, then that guy is probably lying.

As I started to push and the car started to roll, the programming of my youth kicked in and sound effects started to go off in my head.  As my pace picked up to match the momentum of the car, the sound effects were quickly joined by theme music from The Six Million Dollar Man.  I couldn't help laughing at myself as I huffed and puffed down the road. 

Of course, having the Six Million Dollar Man theme playing in my head may be nerdy, but not as much as if I'd had the soundtrack on CD to play while I pushed the car.  Granted, on the right day, I would've had John Williams' Superman music playing.  Man, if I'd had one of my Superman shirts on, too, that would've been really cool...or would that be more nerdy?  I'm not sure on that one.  Well, I may be unclear, but The Doctor says bowties are cool.  I've never seen him push a car, though.  I'll bet I could beat him at arm wrestling.

How nerdy are you?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

16398--In Warm Blood (Ch. 12)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
Chapter 12

I was awake. My brain felt like a plate of scrambled eggs, but I was awake. It was gonna be one of those nights. That was the last time I trusted a smart blonde. Of course, the odds of my ever running into a second one were pretty slim.
I started to blink the blur from my eyes, but the view didn’t get any better. The line-up went from bad to worse. I saw a few of the goons from my burning apartment building, some kind of giant hanging back in the shadows and my host, Pietro Ferrari. I struggled to my feet, asking, “Is this the Liebowitz bar mitzvah?”
“Forever clever, Mr. Stone,” Ferrari responded. “Please, don’t trouble yourself. Take a chair.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but I misplaced my apartment recently, so decorating’s really not a major priority right now.”
Sit,” he ordered, pointing to the chair in front of his desk.
I felt like I had everything except my .44 and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep standing, anyway, so I decided not to fight about it. “Where’s the blonde?”
“Guilty,” the shadowy hulk said in a deep, rumble of a voice. I could make out a large hand on the end of a really long arm reaching up to take a pipe out of his mouth as he spoke. “I suppose there might’ve been easier ways to get you here, but none that shared such a balance of relative painlessness and efficiency.”
“Right,” I said, still clearing my head. “Well, you do what you have to do. And you did get me to Ferrari.”
“Graciously understanding of you,” the giant said. “Good form, old man.”
“So, with a group like this,” I said, “somebody must be in trouble, huh?”
“We could look at the situation that way, Stone,” Ferrari said. “Or we could consider that we two are in a position to help each other into more beneficial stations.”
“After all the effort you’ve put into having people try to kill me?” I asked him. “I’d hate to see you throw all that away.”
“For you? Fuhgeddaboutit. It wasn’t no effort at all.”
“And now we’re here,” I said. “Something really interesting must’ve happened during my nap to make you decide that I didn’t have to be dead for you to be happy.”
“Your persuasive…friend,” Ferrari said, gesturing toward the pipe-puffing giant, “suggested that you might have other uses above ground.”
“Such flattery,” I said with a sneer, “I don’t know where to even begin. What sort of a deal did you have in that dark little mind? And I ask that knowing that your favorite hobbies include tossing coins off the roof and torturing small animals, so I‘m really on the edge of my seat over here.” I was pretty sure the handbook recommended keeping the bad guys talking. So many of them loved talking about themselves and their clever plans. Nothing was ever enough for these egomaniacs.
“Nothing unreasonable, I assure you,” Ferrari said with a smile and a disturbing chuckle. “Drink? Smoke?”
“Pass.” The handbook was extra-wordy about getting something for nothing and not making deals with bad guys.
“Very well then,” he went on, leaning forward to his desk and his bourbon. “What sort of needs do you have?”
“Swimming pools, friendly women and a laundry detergent that’ll get out blood stains,” I told him. I heard a few chuckles around the room, Ferrari’s men taking their cues from him. “That’s just for starters, of course. I assume you’ll be wanting me to skip court next week.”
“That’s a given, yes,” Ferrari replied. “Hey, I can’t blame you for taking advantage of opportunities. My man left a briefcase behind in a cab--”
“Alright, then, he’s already dead, either way,” Ferrari said. “Anyway, you learned what you learned. Sure, I’d have blown your car up, but my mechanic was deported.”
“You had me wondering.”
“Well, setbacks aside,” he continued, “there’s no reason we shouldn’t be sensible.”
“Sensible? You’ve got an office like this and you want to talk about sensible?” I asked him. “This place is huge. You must have a ridiculous decorating budget.”
“Well,” he chuckled, “I don’t like to brag.”
“Why bother? You got these guys for that,” I told him. He laughed even harder. “And that mirror…Wow.”
“Ah, yes,” Ferrari said, seemingly proud that I’d noticed the huge item that took up so much of the wall. “Eight feet tall and eight feet wide, made from hand-blown glass with a gold and bronze frame. Look at the detailed work on the frame. It’s a work of art all its own, nearly three hundred years old.”
Yeah, no ego problems there. Some people had a wall of books in their office. Ferrari had a wall of Look at me! to keep him company. As if the blood red velvet carpet wasn’t distracting enough.
“Come on, Stone. I can see you have a taste for finer things,” Ferrari said, holding out a welcoming hand to me. “Be smart. We can deal, no?”
“Let’s see…wealth, power, Bermuda…Oh, right! I’ll need you to start restoring life to the people you’ve killed, well-being to the people you’ve hurt, freedom to the ones you’ve kidnapped and enslaved--”
“Shut him up!” Ferrari shouted, shattering his glass against his heavy oak desk. “You just said good-bye to oxygen! You’re dead, Stone! You’re dead!”
“Well, at least you stopped being so damned polite about all this,” I said, standing up as the goons moved in to flank me. “I was about to start feeling bad about putting you to all the trouble of rubbing me out.”
“And I was starting to think you had a brain under that hat,” Ferrari said. “You’re pissing away everything. In a half-hour, you’re gonna be under a train.”
“You’re gonna fry out at Wardenclyffe, so I‘d say it‘s a good enough trade. In fact, I heard that Tesla and his mad science buddies are trying to find a way to run enough electricity through your evil butt so even they can‘t bring you back anymore.” At that point, I was pretty sure I heard him growl.
“Such a shame,” the giant said, moving from beside Ferrari and heading toward the door of the crime lord’s sprawling office…den…lair…whatever. “I thought you might’ve had a future. Good luck,” he said, still puffing smoke as he left.
“Hey, thanks for all the help,” I said. “Drive safely.”
“He was talking to me,” Ferrari said.
“Oh, no doubt,” I told him. “You’re gonna need the luck.” Then, I was sure I heard him growl.
You,” he said to the goon on my left, holding out my beloved .44 to the clumsy mouth-breather in the new suit, “take this and put it on the body after he’s dead.”
“Sure thing, boss,” New Suit assured him. “You want us to use the portal?” he asked, gesturing toward the fancy mirror.
Ferrari pulled open a desk drawer and brought out the magic rod I’d played with back in the alley. He held it up and looked it over for a few seconds before announcing, “Yeah, the sooner he‘s gone the better.”
“Right, the chaos magic. I hadn’t pegged you for a regular user,” I said. “Or are you just that prone to extremes?”
“You kiddin’ me, Stone?” Ferrari laughed. “This is the Wayfarer’s Arcanum.”
“Oooh, big words for you, Ferrari,” I said, “but it doesn’t ring any bells.”
“You got a lot to learn, Stone, but sadly little time left.”
Ferrari buttoned his suit jacket as he stood and then walked around the desk with his black magic stick. As he approached the mirror, he ran a hand over his dark hair and adjusted his tie. “Not that I don’t appreciate the attention to detail, but can you really not resist preening?” I asked him. He just looked at me with a grim sneer and tapped one end of the rod to the mirror three times.
The surface of the mirror rippled like a pond and Ferrari started to walk forward into it as he commanded, “Let’s go, boys.” With two goons in front of me and two more giving me a shove from behind, five of us followed Pietro Ferrari through the looking glass and into…surprise-surprise, a mirror version of Ferrari’s office that didn’t smell of smoke. It looked like he was using it largely for storage and there was something distinctly different about the air.
“Air’s flat,” I said. “You might want to get a few plants in here.”
“Shut it, Stone,” New Suit said.
“Bring him,” Ferrari said, walking straight out the office door and into a blackness beyond.
As we all gathered in the blackness, I noticed a line of mirrors like the one in Ferrari’s office. They were arranged as though suspended on an invisible wall, one beside another stretching off…I couldn’t tell how far. The dark lacked reference points. Such was life.
To what I perceived to be my left, the featureless black gave way to stony floor and the light of a blazing fire. The fire burned in an open-topped blacksmith’s forge that stood about three feet tall. Not far from the forge, a slender man, his skin sweaty and gray, stood diligently working over a sturdy, cluttered table. His head was wrapped up like a pirate‘s, but I could see pointy ears amidst strands of white hair that spilled out from under the head rag.
“Smith!” Ferrari called out, the dark elf standing straight and tall in response.
“Who’s the smith?” I asked New Suit.
“Teng Rovo…something,” New Suit whispered back.
“Passing through again,” the tall elf said as he walked toward Ferrari. He looked to be nearly seven feet tall as he passed the crime boss and proceeded on to the line of mirrors. Teng took the rod from Ferrari, asking, “How am I supposed to work like this?”
“Get me where I‘m going and we‘re out of your way,” Ferrari told him. “South Riverside Train Station.”
“I’m a craftsman,” Teng said, walking to another mirror and touching select runes as he moved. “Why do I let you bother me with such trivialities?”
“I pay you,” Ferrari said, following closely, “and supply your experiments.”
“You’re worse than the last one,” Teng told him. “What was his name?”
“Frost,” Ferrari said. “He was weak and now he’s dead.”
Frost. That was a name I knew. I was feeling enlightened as to how these thugs had built their empires so elusively.
The mirror, distinguished from the others only by the fact that it was in front of the drow elf, lit up and began to ripple as moving images appeared within. Teng very deliberately reversed the rod, turning it to put the opposite end from the one he’d been holding into Ferrari’s hand. “Go,” he said, returning to his work.
“You heard him,” Ferrari said. “Go!
“Ain’t we taking the rod, boss?” New Suit asked. “We gotta get back.”
“Take a cab,” Ferrari said, turning to head back to his mirror office door.
I started to laugh as the muscle ushered me to the door.
“What’s so funny, Stone? Your mind finally snap on you?” Ferrari asked.
“You make me laugh, boss man,” I told him. “If this is the best you can do, you’re more desperate than even you realize. Look at all the trouble you’ve had with just me, one guy. You should seriously consider another line of work. I’m not sure you’re cut out for this. If you really knew how to use that thing, you‘d have made yourself disappear by now.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “after I ditch these guys, I’ll be back and we can finish up…just you and me. Don‘t go anywhere.”
“Move it, Stone,” one of the goons said, shoving me through the shadow portal.